Tombow Mono 100 review

Tombow Mono 100 Pencil Review by an Artist

I’m on a mission to find the best artist pencils and so I decided to do a Tombow Mono 100 Pencil review, because these Japanese graphite pencils look like the real deal. As usual, not only am I reviewing the pencils but I’ve also been making some art with them. My pack of the Tombow Mono 100 Pencils goes from 4H (hard lead – lighter tone) all the way to 6B (soft lead – darker tone).

How do the Tombow Mono 100 Pencils feel?

The black paint on the Tombow Mono 100 Pencils is glossy and the pencil is standard size, which means it’s about as thick as most pencils you will have tried already. They’re hexagonal and overall I have no complaints about the feeling of them in my hand. I find the pencils easy to grip and they don’t slip in my hands.

The lead of the Tombow Mono 100 pencils feels quite hard on the paper. I mostly use smooth textured paper and when I drag the Tombow pencils across the smooth pages, I can feel them scratch into the paper’s surface texture, which helps them feel like they’re gripping onto the page. Some pencils feel like they glide across pages and others like they scratch / dig. Each artist will have their own preference on this sensation. I personally prefer pencils that glide more, like the Grafwood pencils by Caran d’Ache (review here).

The Tombow Mono 100 Pencil Case

tombow mono 100 case
This is the Tombow Mono 100 case I had (there’s another version too below).

Most pencil sets come in flat tins. The Tombow Mono 100 pencils come in a double stacked plastic box with a lid. In my opinion this Tombow pencil box is more practical for taking around with you in a bag on trips. Their pencil box stays closed better than the flat metal ones I’m usually used to and it’s easier to find space for it.

The only downside to Tombow double stacking their pencils is that you have to take off the first layer of pencils to get to those underneath. Therefore when in a studio setting or at a desk, I have to take all the pencils out of the case because I find it too annoying to fish through the two layers of pencils whenever I’m trying to find a specific pencil grade.

Overall though the Tombow Mono 100 case is a nice change. Good if you’re going to be taking it around town with you.

tombow mono 100 new pencil case
New style Mono 100 carry case. It’s a better design by the looks of it.

Update: Since buying my set of the Tombow Mono 100s, it seems that the company has updated the box they come in. Now the Tombow Mono 100s come in a box like the one above, which in my opinion is a great move, because now all of the pencils can be accessed without taking others out of the box. Like the box I have, the new one seems good for travel.

How do drawings with the Tombow Mono 100 pencils look?

big cat drawing with tombow mono 100 pencils
Drawing I did using only Tombow Mono 100 pencils (click to enlarge).

Above you have a pencil drawing I did using only the Tombow Mono 100 pencils. I used most of the different pencil grades and found them reasonably easy to control. The 6B is satisfyingly dark and rendered the pupils of the big cat as I wanted. The lightest tone pencil felt a bit scratchy and it took a bit more work to get the tone smooth with that one. Not a huge deal, but personally I prefer Staedtler Mars Lumograph and Caran d’Ache’s Grafwood for the lighter grades of pencils.

For me the darkest pencils of the Tombow Mono 100 range perform really well and the lightest tone pencils would be better if they were smoother and glided across the page more easily.

How well do the Tombow Mono 100 pencils erase?

tombow mono zero review
Using the Tombow Mono Zero on the drawing.

While doing this Tombow Mono 100 review, I decided to do an eraser test with both Tombow’s fine line eraser (which I use a lot for pencil drawings) and also a Staedtler Mars Eraser. For standard block erasers like the Staedtler Mars Eraser, the Tombow Mono 100s erase quite well, neither underperforming or outperforming other brands.

In my drawing of the big cat, I had the ideal opportunity to test Tombow’s own fine liner eraser (named the Tombow Mono Zero). After I was finished shading the cat drawing, I used the Tombow Mono Zero to highlight the whiskers. It did fairly well and I recommend getting the Tombow Mono Zero regardless of whether you get the Mono 100s or not. I did a similar test with the Tombow Mono Zero when I did a drawing of my cat during my review of the Grafwood pencils. The Tombow Mono 100 pencils produce similar results to the Grafwood pencils when erased by the Mono Zero eraser, again neither outperforming or underperforming the alternative.

How different are the pencil grades of the Mono 100 pencils? (swatch test)

An important thing for me whenever I review a pencil set like the Tombow Mono 100 is how different each grade is from the next. Some pencil brands vary their pencil grades more successfully than others and this is unfortunately an area where Tombow fell down a bit.

Here are some swatch tests I did with the Tombow Mono 100 pencils. This was done using smooth paper.

Tombow Mono 100 swatches
Swatches of each pencil grade in the Tombow Mono 100 set.

Analysis of the Tombow Mono 100 swatches

A problem for me with the Tombow Mono 100 pencils are that they don’t vary much between each pencil grade.

4H – 2H is actually ok despite how similar they look in the image above. Then from 2H to H there is a big jump where the pencil shade gets much darker. The difference between H and F isn’t much, though the F pencil feels much softer and gives a smoother finish. HB looks and feels the same as F.

B and 2B look and feel the same, 3B is very similar too. 4B and 5B are indistinguishable in use, though 6B (the darkest pencil) does stand out in the pack as different.

Does pencil tone variety matter?

To recap on what I’ve said before in other graphite pencil reviews; what I don’t like seeing are pencils that are meant to be different grades performing almost identically. If I jump two grades of pencil up or down, I want to see a difference in tone and have more an easier time achieving lighter/darker marks.

One thing to keep in mind is that not every artist cares how much each individual pencil varies. We don’t approach drawings as a painting by numbers project where we have to rely on different letters/numbers to achieve effects. Some artists use just one pencil grade to do an entire artwork. If you’re the kind of person who is using the same grade pencil 80% of the time, you’ll probably like the fact that Tombow’s pencils don’t vary much.

Sharpening the Tombow Mono 100 pencils

The Tombow Mono 100s are easy pencils to sharpen. When they arrive, they aren’t sharpened at all, which I think is a good choice because it allows artists to choose what level of sharpening they’d prefer. I’ve been using my trusty Derwent Super Point Sharpener with them and they work great with it. You could also fit these Tombow pencils into most pencil sharpeners, because as I already mentioned further above, they’re what I’d describe as “standard pencil size”.

The Tombow Mono 100 pencils are made of high quality wood and graphite, so when I’ve been sharpening them, I haven’t noticed any wood splitting problems nor have I had any issues with the lead breaking. Dropping the pencils on the floor is a sure way to break the lead inside I’m sure, but I’m not going to waste pencils for the sake of it to test that! The box the pencils come in does a good job of protecting them, so despite me having carried them in a bag a few times, none of them has broken graphite inside them yet.

Conclusion of this Tombow Mono 100 pencils review

big cat drawing with tombow mono 100 pencils


  • High quality materials.
  • Easy to sharpen.
  • Erases well.
  • Dark tones (only a pro if you like that).
  • The box they come in is good for travel.


  • Not much distinction between many pencil grades.
  • Scratchy feeling (some people will prefer this, I don’t).
  • Pencil barrel not coloured to show difference between pencils.
  • Hardest graphite (light tones) could be smoother and lighter.
  • No real stand out feature or characteristic to differ it from other artist quality pencils, other than the pencil box.

Well done Japan, these pencils are fairly good. I’d be happy using the Tombow Mono 100 pencils and will probably use them again for artwork. The darkest pencil grades feel good and I find it reasonably easy to control tone with the pencils, despite the darkest ones not being very different between grades. The Mono 100 pencils look unique and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy these over another brand, the quality is very decent.

A lot of artists look for dark lead when they’re thinking of buying graphite pencils and if you count yourself among that crowd then you’ll probably like these Tombow pencils, because they’re particularly dark. I myself prefer lighter tone pencils and while the darkest grades of Tombow’s graphite pencils feel fine to me, I would prefer lighter and smoother harder grades. For light tone pencils like 4H, I have a strong preference for Grafwood pencils.

I prefer Staedtler Mars Lumograph and especially Caran d’Ache Grafwood. That doesn’t make the Tombow Mono 100 pencils bad but I just prefer the way the other two brands feel and perform. With the Grafwood pencils, I much prefer the lighter pencil grades and find the graphite glides across paper more (which I prefer).

The main problem with the Tombow Mono 100 pencils for my personal taste is that they’re overall a bit too dark, scratchy and don’t vary enough between grades. The main stand out characteristic of these pencils is the box they come in rather than the pencils themselves. I always like it when an art material leaves me with a memory of the feeling I had with it. I already know that the main thing I’ll remember about the Tombow Mono 100s is that the set is good for travel because of the box. Other than that, I’ll not have much in my memory to distinguish them from other artist quality pencils. Not a big deal, but memorable performance or tactile experience is what gives the edge to other brands like Caran d’Ache with Grafwood. Let’s not take away too much from the Mono 100s though, they’re a still a solid choice.

That’s all for my Tombow Mono 100 review! If you have any questions about them or want to share your own experience with them, go leave a comment below.

Where can you buy the Tombow Mono 100 pencils?

Below are some online shops you can buy Tombow Mono 100 pencils from. I’m affiliated to these shops and trust them all. If you click on the links then I may get a few pennies for sending you but it doesn’t increase the price for you. Thanks in advance if you do use the links, because I buy all these materials myself and write this stuff for free!

Jackson’s Art (UK / EU / Worldwide shipping)

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